The Clanton Gang aka The Cowboys
Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, on view at the Ritter and Ream Funeral Parlor.
A large sign read: "MURDERED IN THE STREETS OF TOMBSTONE".
The Cowboys numbered up to 300 members. They were rustlers and outlaws around Tombstone, Arizona. The local mining companies wanted The Cowboys out of town as they thought them -.bad for business'. The Clanton gang had "treed" the town. Firing their weapons recklessly in any and all directions, the gunmen who led the violence were Curly Bill, Tom and Frank McLaury, Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank Patterson, and Pony Deal.
Curly Bill and his outlaw cronies had two favorite hangouts - Galeyville on the eastern slopes of the Chiricahua Mountains, and Charleston on the San Pedro River. Charleston, a mill town, had about 800 residents and the only law was "Justice Jim" Burnett. This worthy normally ran his office strictly for personal profit and seldom concerned himself with the Cowboys.
One Sunday, Reverend John Addison came down from Tombstone to hold services in Charleston. Ike Clanton, Curly Bill, and a few others of their ilk decided they were in dire need of some religion and showed up at the service. The moment those gun-slung desperadoes appeared most of the congregation decided that they had urgent business elsewhere. Bravely, the sky-pilot continued his sermon, omitting no detail of the awesome punishment reserved in Hell for thieves and murderers. At the end, Curly Bill brandished his weapon and demanded a hymn. The serenade was well appreciated by the gunmen and they kept him singing for over an hour. Then, those same badmen filled the collection plate to overflowing with money and solemnly and quietly departed. Reverend Addison never returned to Charleston again.
Galeyville, the other outlaw hangout, had begun as a silver camp up in Turkey Creek Canyon. The silver did not last. It became a ghost town by the end of 1882, inhabited, for the most part, by outlaws.
Curly Bill learned from an informant below the border that a pack mule train of silver smugglers would be starting up from Mexico in July, 1881. The vaqueros would be moving through Skeleton Canyon, winding through the wild and desolate Peloncillo Mountains. They would come through San Luis Pass into the Animas range, across the Animas valley to San Simon, to the San Pedro, and over into the Santa Cruz Valley. In Tucson the smugglers would exchange their -.dobe dollars for contraband merchandise to take back to Mexico. "Skeleton Canyon" was so called because of the many men and animals who had been killed there, and their bones left to bleach in the sun.
Smugglers led a line of small Andalusian mules through the canyon, never thinking that death lay in wait. Without warning, hidden rifles spouted flame and death from the rocks. The Mexicans had no chance. Heavily loaded though they were, the tiny mules stampeded. The killers raced after them and shot them down. Nine dead Mexicans were left lying at the so-called "Devil's Kitchen" area of Skeleton Canyon. The ambushers gathered at Cave Creek and divided $4,000 in Mexican silver. Most of it was spent on women and whiskey in a saloons of Galeyville and Charleston. John Ringo and Joe Hill won the rest playing poker.
The Mexican government lodged a formal protest to the United States concerning the nine dead Mexican citizens and the theft of goods and money, but no action was taken. John Ringo said he was present at the ambush along with the Clantons; "Old Man", Ike and Billy; Frank and Tom McLaury, Jim Hughes; Rattlesnake Bill; Joe Hill; Charlie Snow; Jake Guage; and Charlie Thomas.
Joseph Isaac (Ike) Clanton was born in Callaway County, Missouri. He is best known for being a member of group of outlaw Cowboys that had ongoing conflicts with lawmen Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp. The Clantons repeatedly threatened the Earps because they interfered with the Cowboys' illegal activities.
Ike Clanton was one of seven children born to Old Man Clanton, (1816-.1881) and his wife Maria Sexton (Kelso) Clanton. His father worked at times as a day laborer, a gold miner, a farmer, and by the late 1870s, a cattleman in Arizona Territory.
Clanton's mother died in 1866. Ike stayed with the family when they moved to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, about 1877 (before Tombstone became a town or even a mining center). At that time, Newman Clanton was living with his sons Phineas ("Fin"), Ike, and Billy.
By 1878 Ike was running a small "lunch counter" at the Tombstone Mill site (now Millville on the San Pedro River-not in modern Tombstone). By 1881, however, he was working on his father's ranch at Lewis Springs, about 12 miles west of Tombstone and 5 miles from Charleston.
The Clantons and their ranch hands and associates were known as the "Cowboys", and they had a reputation for reckless behavior. They were accused of cattle rustling from across the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as other acts of banditry and murder.
Ike Clanton's notoriety is based largely on his conflict with the Earp brothers, especially Wyatt Earp and Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday. The Earps and the Clantons had political, personal, and legal differences and the animosity between them grew throughout 1881. Ike Clanton repeatedly boasting in public, drinking heavily, and having a quick temper. He was well known for talking too much.
In November 1879, shortly after arriving in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp had a horse stolen. More than a year later, probably sometime in December 1880, Wyatt was told the horse was being used near Charleston, and Wyatt and Holliday were forced to ride to the Clanton's ranch near Charleston to await ownership papers in order to legally recover it. According to Wyatt's testimony later, 18 year-old Billy Clanton asked him insolently if he had any more horses to "lose," but he gave the horse up without first being shown the ownership papers, demonstrating to Wyatt that Billy knew to whom the horse belonged. Sheriff Johnny Behan later testified that the incident had angered Ike Clanton. It also angered Wyatt Earp.
In October 1880, outlaw and gunman "Curly Bill" Brocius and a member of the Cowboys, was arrested for the murder of Tombstone marshall Fred White. Wyatt Earp had arrested him, further fueling hostilities between the Clanton and Earp factions. Later, when Brocius was found not guilty, the tensions intensified.
In March 1881, a bungled stagecoach robbery near Benson, Arizona, that resulted in the killing of two men on the stage divided the two factions, with the Earps believing the Cowboys were involved, but with Ike Clanton later publicly claiming Doc Holliday was one of the robbers and that Holliday had fired the shot that killed the stage driver. Wyatt testified that both Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton had agreed to provide information on the capture of the three supposed robbers, named Leonard, Head, and Crane. Later, after the last of these men had died in separate incidents, Wyatt claimed that word of this secret deal began leaking out. Ike Clanton, in contrast, claimed that word of Doc Holliday's involvement, as well as the rest of the Earps' involvement in the robbery, was what was beginning to leak out.
In the summer of 1881, Clanton got into an argument with gambler "Denny" McCann. On the morning of June 9, 1881, they were drinking in an Allen street saloon when Clanton insulted McCann. McCann slapped Clanton, who left and fetched his pistol. McCann did the same and the two met on the street in front of the Wells, Fargo's and Co. office. They drew their weapons when acting Tombstone Marshal Virgil Earp stepped between them, preventing a shooting.
In July 1881, "Curly Bill" Brocius and gunfighter Johnny Ringo were said to have gone to Hachita, New Mexico to kill two brothers, William and Isaac Haslett, in revenge for the deaths of Clanton Cowboy members Bill Leonard and Harry Head, who had attempted to rob the Haslett brothers' general store weeks earlier. Later, also in July, Brocius led an ambush attacking a Mexican trail herd in the San Luis Pass, killing six vaqueros and torturing the remaining eight men. All of these combined events fueled the reputation of the Cowboy gang and added to the tensions around the town of Tombstone.
"Old Man" Clanton was the leader of the group since their base of operation was on his ranch, but he was killed in the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre in August 1881, probably by Mexicans in retaliation for an earlier ambush committed by rustlers associated with the Clantons.
The Cowboys faction was not a close knit group, and their acts of violence, rustling or robbery were not usually committed as an organized plan. Old Man Clanton was never the leader but operated his ranch and allowed the outlaw Cowboys to live and work there. Although history has often portrayed the Cowboys as being ruthless and the town of Tombstone living in fear of them, this was not the case. In fact, with the exception of Ike Clanton who was widely disliked because of his big mouth, most of the Cowboys were seen as harmless or merely a minor nuisance.
They also, generally, got along quite well with the town marshal, Fred White, who was respected and well liked by most of the Cowboys, despite later film portrayals, and much to this credit, they rarely committed crimes inside the town limits, and usually when White was forced to arrest Cowboys he had the support of other members of the gang in doing so, to include Brocius, who liked White.
Newman Haynes "Old Man" Clanton was the patriarch of what we'd call today an organized crime family, who settled in Arizona. Old Man Clanton owned a ranch some 30 miles north of the Mexican border, where he established a pattern of raiding ranches in Mexico and stealing cattle in large volume. Some of these rustling episodes reportedly involved mass murder, in which some historians believe Ike took part. The Old Man surrounded himself with a loose group of between one and two hundred full- and part-time criminals who called themselves The Cow-Boys (the spelling of the day), and who sometimes wore red sashes to flaunt their identity.
Their turf encompassed the boomtown of Tombstone in Cochise County, at a time when Virgil Earp was chief of police there. The Clantons had established a close working relationship with the county sheriff, Johnny Behan. Ike, by all accounts, had trouble holding both his liquor and his tongue.
By 1887, gunfire and the legal system was taking its toll on the "dwindling Clanton gang." Phineas, the oldest Clanton brother, and Ike moved north to Apache County not long after the "Tombstone Troubles," and Ike finally got involved in one murder too many. On November 6, 1886 Phin and Ike were hosting some friends at their new ranch when trouble broke out between two of their guests. Lee Renfro suddenly drew his gun and shot Isaac Ellinger in the chest. Ellinger died four days later.
One witness testified (verbatim) as to the discussion with the mortally wounded victim moments after the shooting, "The deceased then said 'take him in boys and don't let him get away.' Ike Clanton then said to the deceased 'we can't do it Ike, he is a friend of ours.' I asked Ike Clanton how he stood on this affair. He said 'just as it is. I can't stand no other way.' Lee Renfro then said 'these boys are friends of mine and they stand with me.' Ike Clanton then said 'yes, we stand with Lee.'" Those words had made Ike Clanton an accomplice after the fact to the crime of murder.
By now, Clanton had made a legion of mortal enemies far beyond the Earp contingent. The deceased Ike Ellinger had influential friends and relatives, and while Ike Clanton had not pulled the trigger, Ellinger had been killed "under his arm," within the "mantle of his protection" as a guest in his home. The Ellinger family, understandably, wanted justice, Ike Clanton had also become a big wheel in the then-flourishing Anti-Mormon Society, and the Clanton family's well-known depredations South of the border had already brought about the death of his father and several associates by Mexican gunfire. In addition, Clanton's years of flagrant rustling had triggered the wrath of the powerful, well-financed stockmen's associations.
Jonas V. Brighton was hired by the Apache County Stock Growers' Association as a private detective, or so he claimed. A Civil War vet with a somewhat checkered past, he had taken a correspondence course to become a private investigator, and had bought a badge. It would have been laughable, but for one thing: all who knew him described Brighton as a man who could relax the people around him and get them to speak freely on almost any topic ... the mark of the born detective. In any case, his work for the stockmen led him to the ranch of Jim Wilson on Eagle Creek in Graham County, Arizona Territory, on May 31, 1887. He was partnered with a special deputy sheriff. Brighton and the special deputy stayed the night at a cabin on the property.
According to the prevailing account, the following morning Detective Brighton and the special deputy were up and going about breakfast when they heard the hoofbeats of a lone rider approaching. Brighton opened the cabin door and saw Ike Clanton on horseback, some twenty yards away. Then the special deputy stepped into the doorway with him, and when Clanton saw that person, a look of shock or fear came over his face. Ike Clanton reached down and grabbed the Winchester in his saddle scabbard, and began to pull it free.
Ike Clanton "reeled in his saddle" as one reporter of the time put it. There was another shot, and Clanton toppled to the ground. The detective and the special deputy cautiously approached his motionless, prostrate form. They said he was dead when they reached him, his Winchester unfired. One gunshot wound had tracked laterally through his chest, armpit to armpit, on a course that would have struck the heart, possibly the aorta, and probably both lungs. Another shot had merely grazed one of Clanton's legs. Subsequently, ranch owner Wilson and four men from the area identified the body as Ike Clanton's. They buried him on the property.
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